Disposal Discipline

What do we do about all these PCs, now that their users have been laid off? That's the issue Computerworld's Lucas Mearian looks at this week. The situation isn't pretty. Many companies have no well-defined process for decommissioning PCs, and those that do still aren't prepared to deal with so many at once.

It's a security issue. A cost issue. An accounting issue. A mess.

Software is easy: You decide how many licenses to keep and dump the rest. But with hardware, you have to literally dump what you don't keep -- hard drives full of sensitive data, PCs that have to be taken off the books -- all as cheaply as possible.

There's no one-size-fits-all way to handle them. But here are a dozen do's and don'ts for dealing with drives, data and disposal:

Do make a PC decommissioning checklist -- and make sure every item on the checklist is completed before the PC is tagged as ready for disposal.

Do decommission each PC before it's removed from the ex-employee's desk. It has power, and it's in running condition, so run software to thoroughly erase the hard disk immediately, using tools such as Shred or DBAN booted from a CD. That way, by the time you start hauling away the hardware, you know it's safe to dispose of.

Don't remove hard drives. What are you going to do, store them? That's an ongoing cost with no productive benefit -- and a temptation for some bean counter to ship a closet full of old drives to a recycler without warning.

Don't decommission hard drives by degaussing them, drilling holes in them, smashing them with sledgehammers or blasting away at them on a firing range. That's a waste of time, often ineffective and frequently dangerous. Exception: Physically demolishing obsolete equipment may help IT staffers to blow off steam. But thoroughly wipe the hard disk first anyway, and then use safety glasses and protective gear.

Do track the total cost of decommissioning each PC. It's part of the cost of laying off an employee, and that's how it should be handled for accounting purposes.

Do make sure you run your PC disposal plans past your CFO's people first. They have to write this hardware off somehow. Was it expensed? Capitalized? Will it go to a recycler? A school or charity? All these things affect balance sheets and taxes.

Don't send decommissioned PCs off to recyclers if you can avoid it. That's a cost with no benefit. But if you do . . .

Don't trust recyclers to wipe hard drives. Do it yourself.

Do send decommissioned PCs off to schools and charities. That's a tax benefit for your company and a practical benefit for the group that gets it.

Do label every ready-to-dispose-of PC with the name of the IT staffer who decommissioned it, its asset tag numbers, the time and the date. Also log all that information separately and forward it to your CFO.

Do keep some PCs after they've been decommissioned. You'll need some for parts and some to swap in when remaining employees have PC problems. Decide in advance the criteria for keeping a PC.

Don't keep all decommissioned PCs. You'll end up with the ongoing cost of storing PCs that will rapidly decline in value. In the end, you'll have to ship them off anyway. Exception: If your CFO says to keep them for some arcane accounting reason, do what the CFO says. He's the one who would be screaming about the storage cost anyway.

Frank Hayes is Computerworld 's senior news columnist. Contact him at frank_hayes@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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